What Happens When You Find a Dead Body?

My dance class suggested I write a book about them. One woman even volunteered to be the victim, though I can’t imagine why anyone would want to kill her. She is lovely, charming, and utterly delightful. Yesterday we discussed what we would do after we found her body on the dance and before the cops showed up, and we decided we’d have dance class anyway. Why not? It was a mostly empty dance floor (except for the body, of course), we’d be dressed for the occasion, and our minds would not yet have processed the information that our classmate was truly gone. The will-be victim’s comment? “I am truly hurt that you would not mourn me.” In real life, of course, we’d mourn her, but a — hopefully — humorous book about aging women dancing despite the deaths they have had to deal with (not their own death, obviously) should be more about dancing than death.

I can never start writing a novel until I have the beginning of the story, and the end, which I do have. I begin with our plans to write the book about the murder, then segue into the “real” murder. I end with our dancing the perpetrator to death. (Well, it is a dance class, after all. Dance should have a significant part in the story.) I even know who the perpetrator is, and I think I know why he killed Ms. Delightful. (He thought she was Ms. Teacher.)

Most of all, I have everyone’s permission to use them in the story. A couple of the women were wary, some were looking forward to what I’d say about them, and most lit up with excitement at the thought of being in a book.

Now comes the hard part. (Well, the second hardest part. The hardest part will be actually sitting down and putting words on paper.) What happens after we discover the body? Who comes to the scene? What do they do with us? How/where do they take our statements if in fact they do take our statements? How/where do they take our fingerprints?

Most of what I know about crime scene handling comes from movies and TV shows, so most of what I know is probably wrong. And anyway, such information is from the point of the cops, and in the book, I won’t be a cop. I’m only one of a half-dozen women who discover the body. So where am I when the cops, the criminalists, the DA, and everyone else are there? Have they taken preliminary reports — perhaps names, addresses, relation to the deceased — and sent us home? If so, when do they take our statements? Do they call us to come in to the police station?

I found information about the review process here: Criminal Defense Witness Interviews & Statements, which answers many of my questions about the interview process but not actually the beginnings of the process.

Some of those questions are answered here: Investigating the Crime Scene. According to this article, the first cops on the scene are supposed to preserve the crime scene, isolate witnesses, take “names, addresses, dates of birth, and telephone numbers, etc.” (Etc? what the heck does that encompass? It’s those etcs I need to know.) According to this article, the patrol supervisor will interview witnesses. The detective will interview witnesses again and arrange transport for witnesses to be sent to headquarters and will take written statements. Another article about searching and examining a major crime scene contains no mention of anyone but various law enforcement folk.

So, are those who find the body considered witnesses? I guess. Oddly, there doesn’t seem to be much online about what happens to those who find a dead body, except for articles about how doing so can mess you up for life. But those people obviously weren’t taking dance classes. Dancing can unmess you up.

I’ve been trying to find out how those who find a body are dealt with by the police, but most answers to that question involve describing what the police do. In my proposed book, I’m not a cop. I’m me. What do I do? Or more to the point, what will they do to me? (I did come across this humorous (at least, I hope it’s supposed to be humorous and not someone’s experience of what actually happened) article about what to do if you find a dead body. Another article I came across is HowTo:Commit the Perfect Murder. Oh, my.

Nor can I find out how long before the crime scene will be released. We want to dance! How can we dance if the studio is barred from us? It also will need to be a quiet little murder, not much smell or gore, because . . . well, that would put a damper on dancing.

Hmm. Maybe I need to think about this a bit more.


Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

10 Responses to “What Happens When You Find a Dead Body?”

  1. Millie Gordon Says:

    I’m buying the book when it comes on the market! I’m already a fan! If this blog is the start, I can only imagine how much fun the novel will be!

  2. rami ungar the writer Says:

    Maybe you can interview an active or retired cop. They’ll have plenty of information about handling a crime scene.

  3. cicy Rosado Says:

    and who is the killer who wants to kill Ms Teacher? LOL

  4. Interviews with the Police: Who Gets to Lie | Bertram's Blog Says:

    […] What Happens When You Find a Dead Body? […]

  5. mickeyhoffman Says:

    I belong to a mystery writers forum where we have a few police and ex law enforcers as members. If you ask there, you will get lots of help. http://mwf.ravensbeak.com/forum/index.php
    If you can’t get there by typing that in, just hunt for myserywritersforum, I guess…

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